"Yaz!" Sonya's voice ran through the flat, and there were noises of disapproval from their mum and dad, "there's a lady here for you!"
Yaz was off her bed and across the flat before her feet caught up with her brain, her heart in her throat. Some early version of the Doctor came back for me, or maybe she's not changed after all by some miracle and -
Jo Jones was framed by Yaz's doorframe, a baby in a sling dozing against her shoulder, a picnic basket under her arm. "Hello, darling," she said, smiling widely, the long scarf she'd wound around her face pulled down just enough for Yaz to see her nose and mouth. "Fancy a picnic?"
After a hasty excuse (it was out of Yaz's brain as soon as it left her mouth), she'd pulled her boots and her coat and her gloves on and had taken the picnic basket from Jo as the two of them ambled their way towards the train station.
"My granddaughter and her wife moved here recently," Jo was saying as she fussed with the blanket draped over the sling. It was cold enough that her breath sent plumes of fog out with each word, and the clouds were turning pink and golden with the setting sun. "I thought it would do them some good to have some couple time, and I could get some bonding time in with my newest great-granddaughter." Her voice was muffled.
"That was nice of you," Yaz said, trying to keep up. For someone as old (and short) as she was, Jo was remarkably fast, her boots loud on the cold pavement. "It's good to see you again." The picnic basket was heavy enough that she kept having to transfer it from hand to hand, and her fingers were already getting cold. She should've worn mittens instead of the thin gloves she'd picked up from the corner shop, but Yaz had been in such a rush she hadn't been thinking.
"I'm so sorry I wasn't at the last meeting," Jo said, "but my flight was delayed at the last minute, and I will be in town for the next one, I've made Dan promise to call me beforehand, so I can make sure that I shan't miss it."
"It's really alright," Yaz said, trying to sound reassuring.
She was out of practice, truth be told - her new job mostly involved sitting at a computer screen and typing in endless streams of numbers, with the occasional email mixed in. Not exactly high-octane work, but it paid well enough, at least until she figured out what she was going to do next.
Kate Stewart was already making noises about her joining UNIT. It was... well, it was an option, but so was working at the place that Mel would have been able to put in a good word for her, or whoever those people that Ace was regularly getting text messages from...
It was nice, in its own way, to help people by adding up sums and sorting out spreadsheets instead of jumping onto bullet trains or causing explosions.
If nothing else, it was nice to get a few months of breathing room as she sorted out whatever it was she was feeling.
Assuming she ever would.
The train station was too bright after the dimness of the street, and Yaz followed after Jo as the other woman bustled about, buying tickets and finding the right platform to wait on. She didn’t stop talking about her grandchildren, her children, her travels, the latest cause she was pouring her energy into. It was a little bit like being with the Doctor, and that brought on a wave of melancholic nostalgia that she rode like a raft, as they boarded the carriage and settled into their seats.
It was still just bright enough for them to see out, and Yaz watched the hillsides speeding by, occasionally interjecting enough to ask a question or answer her own. The baby, she learned, was named Madison (named after the city in America she'd been born in), and her two mothers had been married for three years. One of them was an organic chemist, and the other did something with animals, and oh, had Yaz read that interesting article about how the wild cheetah population was finally losing its critical status?
"I met the Doctor on a train like this," Yaz said, during a lull in the conversation. She wasn't entirely sure why it slipped out, but it floated between them, and Jo gave her a long, thoughtful look.
"What was she like, when you met her?" Jo adjusted little Madison so that the blanket was settled more securely around the sling, fussing with the hat on the baby's head.
"She was... confused," Yaz said. "She'd just regenerated, and according to Graham, she'd fallen through the roof of the train, and was all discombobulated."
"He called me a ham-fisted bun vendor," Jo said, her expression fond. "Was she more polite than that, your Doctor?"
"Well," Yaz said, taking her gloves off to rub her cold hands together, "she wasn't ever that rude to me, specifically..."
A laugh from Jo and it made her face a mass of wrinkles. The baby joined in, and Yaz was surprised enough to chuckle along with them.
"So she fell in through the roof into a moving train?" Jo asked when everything had settled down. The baby had fallen asleep again, snuggled up into Jo's coat, and Yaz let her eyes glaze over, watching the bright, distant windows like strings of fairy lights.
"The train had stopped at that point," said Yaz, refocusing her attention on Jo. The other woman had an earnest, open face, and the train carriage was nearly empty at this time in the evening. "There was... well." Yaz gave an awkward laugh. "It's kind of a long story."
"Well," said Jo, "we've got a long ride." She was settling into her seat now, adjusting the sling and letting her legs stretch out in front of her under the empty seat next to Yaz.
"So," Yaz began, "this were when I was still working as a police officer..."
The story became another story, and another - Jo was a good listener, and had a good memory for detail, asked questions in the right place.
By the time they got off the train and down the dark lane, Yaz had gotten all the way to her second Dalek encounter, and the picnic basket seemed to be getting heavier with each step she took.
"It makes sense that Graham decided not to stay," Yaz said reflectively as they walked across the gravel, the hills unrolling on either side. "Since Ryan was staying, and Graham didn't want to leave him alone..."
"It's hard to be alone," Jo agreed. "I worried about the Doctor being alone after I left," she added thoughtfully, and then she stopped and forged off into the frosty grass. It crunches under her sensible shoes, and her breath plumed out like she was smoking a cigarette. "This looks like a nice spot for a picnic, don't you think, darling?"
"Sure," Yaz agreed, although it looked like any other patch of grass as far as she was concerned.
"Do you mind spreading the blanket out? It's all bundled up in the basket - right, just like that, thank you, darling. And now, can you take her, just so I can sit down without dropping her... there we go, isn't that nice, Maddy?"
Yaz found herself holding the baby, who stared at her with wide, unfocused eyes as Jo settled herself onto the blanket. Madison was wrapped in a woolly jumper and one of those all-over warm suits, as well as a knitted hat. She grinned toothlessly at Yaz, and her mittened hands were soft against Yaz's cheek.
"I always worry about the Doctor being alone," Jo said reflectively as she settled herself down on the blanket in a nest of shawl and scarf and oversized coat. She opened her arms wide, and Madison did her best starfish impression, reaching out for Jo and squeaking in delight.
"She won't be alone," Yaz said, and she mostly believed herself. "She'll always find people to help. People to travel with." She handed the baby over awkwardly, and Maddy chuckled, reaching up for Jo’s hair.
"You don't just need company for travel, you know," Jo said, and the look she was giving Yaz was entirely too canny.
"I'm not alone," Yaz said, shoving her hands into the pockets of her coat and settling on the blanket, drawing her knees up to her chest. The defensive hunch of her shoulders exposed more of her neck to the cold air, and she shivered, pulling the collar further up her neck.
"Oh, of course not, darling," Jo said, and her hand was on Yaz's knee now, squeezing it. "I don't travel like I used to," she added as she arranged the baby to sit more comfortably in her lap. "I miss it horribly, but I'm getting on in years, and so is my husband."
Yaz nodded, not sure how to respond. There was a knot of some complicated emotion right in the back of her throat, and the air was cold enough to taste sweet with each inhale.
"I'm petrified that he's going to die someday," Jo continued. "I think I was lucky in a lot of ways. I hear you and... everyone else talking about seeing the Doctor change, but I never had that. I left before the Doctor could change his face..." She trailed off, then gave a little laugh. “Although I suppose everyone’s face changes as they get older, doesn’t it?”
"Yeah," Yaz said, although it was beginning to feel as if Jo was having both sides of the conversation.
"Someday, my husband will die, and I'm going to have to keep walking and talking and eating and sleeping and doing my dishes," Jo said reflectively. "I've been thinking about that a lot recently - knowing the Doctor changed ten times since I met him, lived thousands of years, while I was off doing my dishes and having children and picketing oil companies and climbing mountains and who knows what else. All those tragedies and miracles and adventures everyone talks about, and I was just living my life?" Jo gave a deep chuckle from the back of her throat, like someone rattling a can full of pebbles.
"My parents don't know how old I am anymore," Yaz said haltingly. "I lived... four years in the past, me and Dan and our other friend, Jericho..." There was something strange about just... letting it fall out like this. "Before the first world war."
"Oh, the Doctor took me to that part of the past a few times," said Jo, and she was grinning now, the silvery light catching the paleness of her face - or at least, the little peeks of it she could glimpse, between the scarf, the hat, and the turned up collar.
"We got stranded by Weeping Angels," said Yaz. "And Jericho..." She trailed off and looked down at her hands. "We were best mates, the three of us," she said finally. "And I can't ever talk about it, obviously, since..." She cleared her throat and wiped her face with the back of her hand. A few tears had dripped down her cheeks, hot in the cold air.
"We pick up so many strange friends travelling the way we do, don't we?" Jo's voice was kind, but there wasn't any pity.
Yaz didn't know if she'd have been able to take pity just then.
"Yeah," Yaz said, and she took a deep, gulping breath and wiped her face again. "Yeah, we're... we're pretty lucky that way, aren't we?"
"Oh, undoubtedly," Jo said, all enthusiasm again, then; "would you like some soup, or would you just like a sandwich?"
Yaz blinked, trying to get her bearings from the sudden whiplash. "Soup?"
"My son, he's always giving me these fancy gadgets," Jo said, and now she was leaning over to rummage through the picnic basket. The baby in her lap gurgled, and Jo adjusted her and pulled a bright green thermos out from its interior. "This one will apparently keep things cold or warm for up to twelve hours." She snorted. "I'll believe it when I see it. I'll tell you what, but there's worse things in life than cold soup."
"Really?" Yaz licked her lips, tasted salt, and wiped her face again, stuck her hands under her armpits to warm them up a bit. "I could go for some soup, yeah. What kind is it?"
"Vegetable," said Jo. "Entirely vegetarian, I'm sure you won't mind," she added, and Yaz nodded her assent.
Jo made a delighted noise as she got the top open, and another plume of smoke shot up from the open container. "Well," she said, pouring the soup into the mug she'd fished out, "would you look at that!"
"Fancy," Yaz agreed, taking the mug in her gloved hands, then taking a sip. "Very nice," she added, not really paying attention to what she was saying. The soup warmed her mouth up, her throat, and she sighed, some of the tension leaving her shoulders. The moon was huge and bright overhead, almost like a spotlight. "My parents are going to wonder what I'm up to," she said after she'd taken another few swallows.
"Wondering why you're going out with some mad old bat, are they?" Another burst of laughter from Jo, which shocked a laugh out of Yaz as well - Madison joined in as well, and Jo's face went soft and open, her eyes on her great-granddaughter's face. "I suppose someday she'll be thinking about that, won't she?"
"Mm?" Another sip, and then Jo was handing Yaz a sandwich. It had the crusts cut off and was on a very dark bread. Yaz couldn't tell the filling and took a bite, lacking anything else to do.
She still couldn't tell what the filling was, but at least it didn't taste bad.
"Some day, all the people who love me - who love us - will be sitting there and thinking about how we had adventures and tragedies and... well, everything, while they were off living their own lives." Jo ran a finger along Madison's profile, and Madison reached up clumsily to grab one finger as Jo precariously balanced her mug with the other hand.
"I hadn't thought of it that way," Yaz said quietly. "The Doctor... she told me, when I first met her, that she carries all the people she's loved with her."
"And you carry her with you," Jo agreed. "I loved the Doctor," she added, almost as an afterthought. "Love the Doctor, I suppose. If he or she or... whoever they may be just showed up at my door tomorrow, I'd still love her the way I did when I was younger than you are now!" She took a noisy slurp of her soup, then wrinkled her nose. "Oh, I overdid the paprika, I'm so sorry, darling."
"It's really fine," Yaz assured her. I loved the Doctor too. Love the Doctor too was on the tip of her tongue, but she caught Jo's eyes on her face, and she looked down into her own lap, embarrassment heating her cheeks, even if she wasn't sure why. "I... miss her," she said, which was true, and also not nearly enough to encompass the ache in the depths of her self, and she took another deep drink.
"She misses you too," Jo said, and her hand covered Yaz's knee, squeezing it tight.
Yaz licked her lips, sighed, and let her hand cover Jo's. "You give good advice," she said, which wasn't exactly the compliment that she'd meant to give, but she wasn't sure what she meant to say.
"When you've lived as long as I have," Jo said, giving another laugh. "If only I made good soup," she added.
"It really is good soup," Yaz protested, and she took another loud slurp to demonstrate, which set Jo laughing, and then Yaz was laughing as well, and the laughter seemed to dislodge something in her throat because she had to put her mug down before she spilled soup over herself.
The sobs seemed to come from the same place as the laughter, and she couldn't seem to stop them as they worked their way out of her, shaking her like a rock in a tumbler as more tears poured out of her. She covered her mouth with both hands to keep more noise from escaping, and Jo made a soothing noise and rubbed her back.
It seemed to go on for eternity, the cold air hitting her hot cheeks, sweat dripping down her back and wet face. When she finally - finally - came up for air, Jo was handing her a hanky.
“Any better?” Her voice was kind, and that brought on a shudder from Yaz.
Yaz nodded mutely, and wiped her face. “Sorry,” she mumbled. “I’m not usually this….” She trailed off. Soppy? Pathetic? Awkward?
“Well,” Jo said, her tone dead serious, “I suppose I’ll have to be more careful my next batch.”
Yaz wiped her eyes and nose and gave a shaky smile. “Definitely,” she agreed, and she sighed and took in the cold air, so sharp it was almost sweet, as the moon shone down on the three of them. “D’you think the Doctor’s out there somewhere?” Her eyes stayed on the moon, the stars, and the great velvet expanse overhead.
“Oh, definitely,” said Jo. “Probably having some madcap adventure, even as we speak.”
And Yaz didn’t know if she took comfort in that or if it hurt that little bit more, but she leaned into the feeling and picked her mug up again, her knee against Jo’s, the moon bright overhead, and the tears drying on her face.